Years ago, inspired by a live performance of the high energy and hugely popular Riverdance, it became a bucket-list longing for a local woman.

Now Irish dance has stepped into the middle of Michelle Farnsworth’s life in such a dominating way that her energetic footwork is allowing her to kick up her heels — and so much so that she has converted a part of her home’s basement into a dance rehearsal area, complete with mirrors on the wall.

“This, is really good exercise,” she said.

In exuberance. In passion. In joy. In rhythm. In family unity.

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The 59-year-old Columbus resident who began classes four years ago because of that do-it-before-I-die goal now shares the weekly learning experience at New Albany’s Ryan Academy of Irish Dance with her 35-year-old daughter, Mary Norton of Columbus, and her nearly 5-year-old granddaughter Emma Norton. And, a few taps from now, another daughter Erin Sullivan, also from Columbus and a woman who already has tried it and loved it, plans to join them.

Clearly, the clan in tune with the artistic pluck of the Irish stays in tune with one another.

“The rhythm was never a problem at all for me even in the beginning,” said Farnsworth, the local Sandy Hook Church organist and choir director who has to understand musical rhythm to do her job. “It was a matter of getting all the steps in the right order. But it is just so much fun.”

Daughter Norton concurred. She and her mom previously spent years together in gymnastics, which Farnsworth herself pursued as a teen. Farnsworth served as her daughter’s gymnastics coach, in fact (and mom proclaims Irish dance “a much better workout” than gymnastics).

“Taking Irish dance as a family has provided us a fun, exciting sport where we push each other to do our best,” she said. “It’s given us a common goal and lots of time to spend together.

“It’s incredibly motivating for Emma to be able to watch her Mom and Nana dance and know that someday soon she’ll get to travel and feis (compete) with us. Our family will continue dancing together, because the experiences and memories it has provided us are irreplaceable.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for adult Irish dancers at a feis is finding enough competitors. Sadly, more than once, Farnsworth and Norton have been the only adults to face off before judges. But even in that situation, getting feedback and scores is crucial to improvement, as Farnsworth sees it.

“It pushes me to try to perfect things that much more,” Farnsworth said.

That includes far more than what her feet do. At a recent competition in St. Louis, a kind, female British judge called Farnsworth over after noting that Farnsworth’s hands were as kinetic as the rest of her.

“Dear,” the woman told the dancer, “you don’t get extra points for dancing hands.”

Farnsworth laughed heartily recalling the moment, knowing that arms and hands are to remain relaxed in the steps.

“Since I play piano, my hands are just used to moving anytime I hear music,” she told the judge.

Farnsworth acknowledged that she has danced through slight ankle and foot soreness and injuries occasionally. She finds it tough to stop something that has kept her going so energetically — and so much so that she regularly babysits her four grandchildren, ages 7 months to 5 years, without worrying if she can keep up with them. In fact, she wonders if the opposite can be possible with the youngsters.

“It’s usually my goal,” Farnsworth said with a laugh, “to try to wear them out.”

Try Irish dance today

You need not take Michelle Farnsworth’s word on the fun and fitness connected with Irish dance.

Ryan Academy of Irish Dance, 3211 Grant Line Road in New Albany, is offering a free introductory class from 1 to 2 p.m. today for people of all ages.


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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.